Sydney – Usain Bolt says he’s deadly serious about becoming a professional footballer and plans to show the world what he’s capable of after arriving in Australia Saturday for a trial stint with an A-League club.
The superstar athlete has been given the chance to prove his worth by the Central Coast Mariners, who have agreed to let him train with the team indefinitely in his pursuit of a playing contract.
They hope to turn him into A-League material in time for the start of the 2018/19 season in late October.
Bolt, wearing a Mariners scarf, was met by a media scrum at Sydney airport and said he would push himself hard to make the grade.
“I always put my best foot forward and I’m going to show the world what I’m made of,” he said.
“This is real,” added the 31-year-old when asked if it was simply a stunt.
“I’ve said since my last season of track and field that I want to play football and I know what I can do.
“I’m grateful to the Mariners for giving me the opportunity and am happy to call Australia home for now.”
Bolt has already tried out with teams in Germany, Norway and South Africa, to no avail, since retiring from athletics last year.
Despite being an eight-time Olympic champion and the fastest man on earth, he admitted to being nervous about what lay ahead in the small town of Gosford, 75 kilometres (47 miles) north of Sydney, where the club is based.
“Nerves will always be there, but I’m more excited than anything else,” said the Jamaican, who is set to have his first training session on Tuesday.
Mariners chief executive Shaun Mielekamp has made clear Bolt won’t be getting any special treatment, although extra security guards will be on hand and club training sessions moved to a larger venue to accommodate the legions of fans who are expected to turn up to get a glimpse of Bolt.
“The one thing we’ve been really firm on is that Usain, while trialling for a contract, be treated the same as any player,” Mielekamp said this week.
“Obviously, we understand the realities of having somebody of his profile. But (when it comes to football) there will be no advantages.
“And that’s what Bolt wants — this is about his football journey. He’s coming here for the right reasons.”
Bolt dominated sprinting since taking double individual gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He went on to win a further six Olympic golds and pick up 11 world titles.
Cape Town – Plenty of collective firepower on paper … but an acid test for a significantly reworked loose trio.
Those are key hallmarks of the Springbok team named by head coach Rassie Erasmus on Thursday for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Kings Park (17:05 kick-off).
The substantial sacrifice for this tournament of Duane Vermeulen, the powerhouse No 8 who was so influential in June’s 2-1 series triumph over England, is comfortingly offset by the return to the starting line-up of physical, enforcer-type figures like Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth from injury.
Similarly, in being deprived of the 42-cap Vermeulen, there is ample compensation in experience terms through Bath-based Francois Louw (57 Test appearances), albeit in a different berth to him, returning to the loosie alliance.
That is the area where the Boks will be under special scrutiny against the Pumas, given the widespread way in which Erasmus – remember, once a world-class loose forward himself, so not acting without great acumen or confidence – has remoulded his plans, now sans Vermeulen’s grunt.
No single player stays in his same role from the trio who did duty, and to admirable standards, in the last two Tests of the England series (Bloemfontein and Cape Town): captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, at seven, and Vermeulen.
Kolisi, of course, is the only one keeping his place in the latest loose trio but there is a notable shift for the Stormers man: back from the open-side role to the No 7 duty.
It may not have been an easy step for coach Erasmus to take, mindful that there was a period in his Test career, now stretching back to 2013, when Kolisi operated at blind-side but, while always being a firm tackler and willing ball-carrier, didn’t always give quite as much broad “go-forward” as you would wish of the player in that position.
A spot sometimes occupied by forwards who have the tonnage to double as imposing locks, the Zwide-born competitor tips the scales at a relatively modest 103kg and isn’t the tallest No 7 in the world, either.
A personal view is that Kolisi’s gradual education in the fetcher berth should have been allowed to continue, even as it remains apparent he is not the most natural of pilferers.
Truth be told, if there was a role somewhere directly between six and seven for flankers – say a six-and-a-half jersey? – then Kolisi would tick the box wonderfully.
Instead there is renewed pressure on him to readjust swiftly to the blind-side responsibility, and knowing full well that his No 8, the skilful, roaming former national skipper Warren Whiteley, is also no Vermeulen in the pure bulldozing stakes.
That is where Louw, now to play his first Test since the 35-6 victory over Italy at Padova in November last year, will come in useful for his own, not inconsiderable tale of the tape – 114kg and 1.90m, making him the most physically imposing of the Bok starting loosies this weekend.
Although officially stationed at six and expected to be a significant nuisance over the ball against the Pumas, he is not unlike Kolisi in being adaptable between the two flank roles (not to mention increasingly comfortable at No 8 if required, too).
Louw is a rugged ball-carrier when the opportunity arises, and bear in mind that he was playing full-time on the blindside toward the climax of his final season with the Stormers in 2010 before his switch to the English Premiership.
In the Super Rugby final that year, which Louw started in, Schalk Burger was the No 6 and Vermeulen wearing the eighth-man jersey in the defeat to compatriots the Bulls in Soweto.
So perhaps the cross-over abilities of both Bok flankers will come in useful this Saturday, the sum of their parts adding up to one satisfying “whole” rather than the Boks looking disjointed or unbalanced in the loose-forward scrap.
Nevertheless, there is a case for saying that Du Toit is unfortunate to lose his blindside flank place – the loose combo sacrifices his 120kg ballast and 2m lineout attributes – after operating there in six of his last seven starts for South Africa and getting more and more accomplished.
But you also won’t hear too many complaints from the blond dynamo, as he stays in the team by restoring his second-row partnership (lock is probably still his preferred position) with franchise-mate Etzebeth.
The Boks will miss Vermeulen’s substantial lineout prowess at the back, but Whiteley is a spring-heeled factor in that area so they should not be caught too literally “short” against the Argentineans there …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
Cape Town – Pretoria Mavericks franchise owner Hiren Bhanu has heavily criticised Cricket South Africa (CSA), as the future of the T20 Global League – and the specifics of its composition – remained in the balance this week.
The tournament was due to take place late last year, but was postponed to November 2018 after the controversial departure of former CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat.
CSA have since announced plans to partner with broadcaster SuperSport in a new-look, six-franchise competition. This tournament will not allow for private ownership, which has angered Bhanu, the Durban Qalandars’ Sameen Rana and others.
Last week’s two heated meetings in Mumbai and Dubai, between several former T20 Global League owners and CSA representatives, did little to placate Bhanu and company.
Bhanu is currently pursuing an interdict against CSA, to prevent any T20 tournament being played in Centurion.
“They’ve given us no alternative. We’re going ahead and suing them,” he was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz. “We have no choice. They are all liars.
“How is it possible that we, as former owners, can get a stake later, when SuperSport are 49 percent partners in your new entity and you haven’t even asked their consent? It’s nonsense.”
Nelson Mandela Bay Stars owner Ajay Sethi added: “CSA have continuously changed their position and have shown no interest in working with the current T20 Global League owners.
“As owners, we now have no option but to go the legal route and consider all legal options to protect our interests.”
Losses incurred by last year’s postponement have been estimated to be R220 million. Legal proceedings will see this figure grow substantially.
Domestic T20 tournaments, featuring local and international stars, have since been launched in the United Arab Emirates and Canada. The Caribbean Premier League, Indian Premier League and Big Bash League in Australia continue to thrive.
Cape Town – The Proteas have won the toss and will bat first in the only T20I against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Tuesday.
There was a light drizzle in the air as the toss took place, but Proteas stand-in captain JP Duminy had no hesitation in opting to make first use of the wicket.
In team news, the Proteas have kept Hashim Amla at the top of their order while Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Junior Dala lead the seam attack.
Tabraiz Shamsi, meanwhile, comes back in as the spinning option.
Angelo Mathews (captain), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Kasun Rajitha, Isuru Udana
Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, JP Duminy (captain), David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Junior Dala, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi
Cape Town – John Mitchell’s departure to England appears to be a foregone conclusion, with only the release fee requested by the Bulls stalling the process somewhat.
Several media reports have indicated that Mitchell will become England’s new defence coach, with the New Zealand Herald even going as far as saying that the former All Blacks head coach “has officially agreed a deal to replace Paul Gustard”.
Mitchell is expected to start in his new role next month, with his contract set to run until after next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
It is understood that that the English RFU is in negotiations about a compensation payment with the Bulls.
Afrikaans publication Netwerk24 reported on Sunday that that the Bulls had rejected the RFU’s offer of £50 000 (R900 000) in compensation and asked for £500 000 (R9 million) instead.
However, according to local rugby publication, SA Rugbymag, the amount is nowhere near £500 000 although it is understood to be more than 10%.
It has nevertheless become clear that Mitchell’s tenure at the Bulls will come to a premature end as his contract was due to only expire at the end of October 2019.
Mitchell was previously the England forwards coach between 1997 and 2000 under Sir Clive Woodward.
He will now work alongside head coach Eddie Jones.
Toronto – Kevin Anderson suffered an agonising loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals of the Toronto Masters on Saturday.
The Greek young gun, who turns 20 on Sunday, defeated the South African fourth seed 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-6 (9/7).
It was a tightly-contested battle that went down to the wire, with Tsitsipas claiming the only break of serve in the match in the second set.
Tsitsipas squandered two match points leading 6-4 in the final set tie-break, before saving a match point at 6-7 down in the shootout. He eventually claimed victory on his third match point.
Both players were looking to reach their maiden final at Masters 1000 level.
In Sunday’s final, Tsitsipas will face the winner of the later match between world No 1 Rafael Nadal and Russia’s Karen Khachanov.
Cape Town – If Aiden Markram wakes up one night in a cold sweat after flashbacks of his time in Sri Lanka, nobody could blame him.
It’s been a tough old time for the 23-year-old prodigy.
Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) 2018 International Newcomer of the Year has come crashing back down to earth.
In his first international season, Markram scored a perfect 1 000 runs from just 10 Test matches.
Considered the future of South African cricket, he was then given the captaincy for five ODIs against India earlier in the year.
Less than six months later, Markram has been dropped from the Proteas ODI side currently doing business in Sri Lanka.
Markram is averaging just 5.5 having batted 8 times in 6 matches – Tests, ODIs and warm-ups included.
His list of scores since landing in Sri Lanka reads: 0, 0, 19, 7, 14, 1, 0 and 3.
As has been the case for most of the Proteas on this tour, particularly in the longer format, Markram’s troubles have come against spin.
He has not yet found a way to counter the Sri Lankan slow bowlers, and it hasn’t been because of a lack of effort on his part.
As Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis said on Friday: “You keep fighting hard and you train hard and hit more balls, but it just feels like you’re taking a shovel and making that hole a little bit deeper.”
Markram has been hard at work in the nets, trying to get out of this slump.
So far, it hasn’t happened, but he is likely to be given another crack in the fifth and final ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Sunday.
“Aiden is in a good space. For a young guy who is going through a tough time, I can see that he’s got a very mature head on his body. He understands that it’s part of cricket, going through the ups and downs,” said Du Plessis.
“In that first year everything was hunky-dory, but you go through these things.
“He’ll use this as a learning curve and he’s really excited to try and figure out what needs to be done for him to become a better player.
“We just gave him a little break and hopefully we’ll see if we can get him in for this last game.”
Making room for a Markram return in the 5th ODI, however, is complicated.
Heinrich Klaasen has had just one game in the series, batting at no 4, while Reeza Hendricks at No 3 is looking to capitalise on his superb century in the 3rd ODI this past Sunday.
Both of those players need to be backed again, so if Markram does come in it would likely be at the expense of opener Hashim Amla, who could be rested.
Sunday’s clash starts at 11:00 (SA time).
Cape Town – The result may not have gone his way, but Proteas opener Quinton de Kock reached a significant milestone in Kandy on Wednesday.
De Kock captained the Proteas for the first time in the 4th ODI as the visitors fell to a 3-run (D/L) loss in a rain-affected clash that was disrupted numerous times by the wet weather.
It wasn’t the result that De Kock would have wanted in his first match in charge, but there was at least some comfort for the 25-year-old.
In his brief but entertaining knock of 23 (13), De Kock became the 6th-fastest batsman in the history of ODI cricket to pass 4 000 runs.
It has taken the wicketkeeper just 94 innings to reach that milestone, and only 5 other cricketers have done it quicker.
De Kock’s opening partner Hashim Amla has set the standard and leads the way on that list having reached 4 000 runs in just 81 innings.
Viv Richards is 2nd having done it in 88 innings.
Both De Kock and Amla have shown glimpses of their best form in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, confirming that they are still South Africa’s best bet as an opening pair heading into next year’s 2019 World Cup in England.
Fastest batsmen to 4 000 ODI runs:
1. Hashim Amla – 81 innings
2. Viv Richards – 88 innings
3. Joe Root – 91 innings
4. Virat Kohli – 93 innings
5. David Warner – 93 innings
6. Quinton de Kock – 94 innings
7. Shikhar Dhawan – 95 innings
8. Gordon Greenidge – 96 innings
9. Kane Williamson – 96 innings
10. Brian Lara – 100 innings
Cape Town – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will have all 35 of his Rugby Championship squad together when the Lions join the fray in Stellenbosch on Wednesday.
Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie and Lionel Mapoe were all involved in this past Saturday’s 37-8 loss to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final in Christchurch.
There is not time to rest, though, and a number of those players will be big players in the Bok Rugby Championship push.
Marx and Dyantyi, in particular, are crucial players for Erasmus.
The Stellenbosch camp started over three weeks ago with just seven Stormers in attendance after Robbie Fleck’s charges failed to make the Super Rugby playoffs.
The Bulls joined a little later, while the Sharks players were still on Super Rugby duty with a quarter-final trip to Christchurch to prepare for.
But, once the Sharks were dumped out of the competition, their Boks joined up with the rest of the squad in Stellenbosch.
It was important, Erasmus emphasised, to keep the conditioning levels up during the Super Rugby playoffs.
The squad has been growing gradually ever since, but by the end of Wednesday all 35 players are expected to be going at it.
“They’ve been coming in bits and pieces,” Erasmus explained in Stellenbosch earlier in the week.
“We used some Sevens guys to train against.
“In the beginning it was just conditioning to make sure that the guys don’t all go hunting, fishing and on holiday only to come back and have to play against teams who have been playing through quarter-finals and semi-finals of Super Rugby.
“It sometimes happened in the past when a team falls out they get two weeks off and then go into the Rugby Championship. You can probably say they need a rest, but on the other hand the Crusaders didn’t get a rest right until the final.
“We try to keep them conditioned and some of them are in better condition than they were.”
Now that he has a full squad to work with, Erasmus will shift the focus from conditioning to more game-specific training.
“As we build it up and get more numbers, we start to do more tactical stuff on how we want to try and play in the Rugby Championship,” he said.
“With the Lions coming in on Wednesday, we’ll go full on into our actual plan.”
The Boks open their campaign against Argentina in Durban next Saturday.
Cape Town – With Duane Vermeulen not available for the Rugby Championship, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will have to field a new-look loose trio for next Saturday’s tournament opener against Argentina in Durban.
On the surface, the fit-again Warren Whiteley seems the most natural replacement at the back of the scrum. But, listening to Erasmus speak in Stellenbosch on Monday, things could be a little more complicated than that.
Siya Kolisi, confirmed as captain for the Rugby Championship, is the only one guaranteed a start in the loose trio, though it is looking increasingly likely that he will make the move from openside to blindside flank.
The addition of two new squad members – the uncapped Marco van Staden and Bok veteran Francois Louw – means that Erasmus now has two new options at No 6.
While a Whiteley/Kolisi/Louw starting loose trio would move Pieter-Steph du Toit back to the second row, it seems the most natural fit.
Van Staden, however, is the possible bolter.
It has become abundantly clear how highly Erasmus rates the 22-year-old; so much so that he was the coach’s first-choice to wear the No 6 jersey in the June Tests against England.
As fate would have it, Van Staden went down with a knee injury while on Super Rugby duty for the Bulls against the Brumbies in the final match before the international break.
Now, he is fit and firing, and Erasmus is keen to get him involved.
“Marco probably would have started in the England Test matches as the first-choice and then the match before that series, the last one that the Bulls played, his knee went,” Erasmus said.
“Since then he’s been playing as an out-and-out opensider like Francois Louw and Heinrich Brussow and those guys. It’s nice to have somebody like that in the fold.”
Louw himself will be the favourite to start at openside in Durban, though Erasmus hinted strongly at the 33-year-old’s ability to play at No 8 too.
The coach pointed to the role that Louw played in last year’s 25-24 loss to the All Blacks at Newlands, adding that it might open the door for him to start alongside Van Staden.
“Having guys being able to contest on the ground like Malcolm (Marx), Flo and Marco … we might play them together at some stage,” Erasmus said.
“Flo played a wonderful game at No 8 when we lost to New Zealand at Newlands. He’s pretty versatile, so they might be in the same starting line-up, depending who the opposition is.”
On Kolisi’s likely move to No 7, Erasmus had no concerns.
“When Siya started out playing he was this lanky flanker who almost played like Warren (Whiteley). He was bigger than the other boys, but he ran on those outside channels,” Erasmus explained.
“He’s taught himself the role of a genuine open-sider. He’s brilliant over the ball and is a great counter-rucker, but probably not of the best poachers or at slowing the opposition ball.
“With his lineout ability, he is probably a good option as a blindside flanker.
“He will always be in the team. It’s nice to have a guy like that and then build other guys around him. He’ll probably play a few games at blindside.”
The likeliest loose forward combination for Durban remains Whiteley/Kolisi/Louw, but don’t be surprised at all if Erasmus takes the bold step to include another uncapped youngster in Van Staden.